National Geographic : 1936 Jan
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE IT TAKES MANY WIVES TO MILK A RICH KALMUCK'S COWS A stockman with hundreds of sheep and cattle usually buys as many wives as he can support. He needs them for housework and to bear him children. Because of unsanitary conditions and the mothers' abysmal ignorance of the care of children, it generally takes a number of wives to rear a single family. Women seldom lay aside their braids of dirty false hair, even when milking, chopping wood, or sleeping (see text, page 48). home was a two-room structure-one small room to eat and sleep in, the other a large room for his gods. A massive altar stood against the center wall. In front of the centrally seated Buddha were dozens of small copper offering cups. Some of the cups held milk, others grains and crumbs of bread; but all were quite fresh and recently set out. "Don't fear," whispered Ala Beg at my elbow, "they don't waste the gifts. Every morning they offer a prayer of thanks giving to the Buddha-happy that he has received their offerings; then they empty all the little cups into the great iron kettle, throw in anything else they happen to have on hand, and boil up the hotchpotch for their one daily meal." When I questioned the Lama as to whether he had been to Tibet, he brought out a long, narrow, red and white striped envelope of the Chinese variety. Tenderly he drew out and unfolded a long sheet of paper, brown and frayed at the edges. "It is a letter from the Dalai Lama of Tibet," he said, casting a sidelong glance at me to catch my look of admiration. "As a young priest I went on a pilgrimage to Tibet and for seven years I remained there, studying the holy writings and learning the mysteries of the Great Buddha. Since my return, the Divine Lama has sent me sev eral letters." A BUDDHA OF SOLID GOLD The lama called one of his priests and gave directions for showing us around. As we stood in the main assembly room of the temple, I commented to Ala Beg on the size of the great central Buddha. "But that is only their second Buddha. There is a Buddha somewhere in the temple which is of solid gold; I have never seen it, but the Kalmucks all over the valley speak of it with awe and reverence and look to it as their true and greatest Tekes god." I stepped over to Sayjan Beg, who was looking at the strange collection of idols with unfeigned curiosity. "Ala Beg says that there is an even greater Buddha of solid gold; why not ask the priest if we can see it?"